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Strategic Thinking: Foodservice Communities and the Social Web

Online communities are becoming an important component of professional networking.

Originally, what we know today as the World Wide Web was primarily seen as a communications vehicle from which a user would view or download documents. But, increasingly, it has evolved into an interactive medium with its users — a dynamic, web-based community — exerting a greater and greater influence over its content.

Web community is important to more than just the “geeks” among us. It also matters in personal and professional group life, and the food service industry — where networking is such a critical activity — is no exception. Networking via the Internet and associated technologies is bringing people and the profession together all around the world, vastly extending the size and breadth of the foodservice professional community.

An online community is characterized by a critical mass of people with common interests and needs, much the same as those that make up professional groups. One of the differences is that Internet users have the potential to be much more than just passive “readers” or “consumers” of content; they can also become its creators and authors. The technologies and applications that make this possible include blogs, wikis, RSS feeds and social bookmarking sites. Together, these options are classified as “Social Media,” recognizing the interactivity that they foster.

Today, staying professionally abreast in the face of the accelerated pace of change in our industry means leveraging such available resources. The greatest potential for doing that exists online.

In the years ahead, a primary task will be to make this knowledge more productive as managers increasingly become “knowledge workers,” who apply concepts, ideas and theory to their work (as opposed to contributing skill and manual labor). Social networking is a way for people from far and wide to help each other successfully sift through the information glut and share information and ideas that work.

Successful social networking communities develop bonds with members and even with the community itself. They create a place where management and professional issues can be shared, explained and even debated, and also places where online help from the community is just a click away!

Some of the benefits of such communities include:

  • Access to quality content contributed by community organizers, experts and other members.

  • Lots of member-contributed content (i.e., opinions, expertise and experience).

  • Meaningful relationships with other members and/or the community (sharing common interests, experiences and goals).

  • The ability to carry out economic transactions (i.e., auctions, product discovery, reviews and referrals, attend virtual trade shows, etc.).

If you are a part of an online professional community or considering joining one, here are some criteria to help you judge how much you can get from it or if you need to search for another one that better fits your needs.

Cohesion: The group has a firm identity and cultivates a sense of belonging.

Usefulness to members: This must be both perceived and real. Does it regularly address topics you care about?

Effectiveness: It has impact on members and the outside world.

Relationships: Member-to-member interactions take place easily, allowing relationships to form.

Self regulation: It is structured so it can be self-policed and has appropriate rules of online behavior.

Today, people are connected to the Internet via cell phones, PDAs and mobile laptops. Bloggers chat interactively online, wiki users enter text into information databases, and RSS feeds are changing the way people get news and other daily information. In this environment, mastering Social Media and the Social Web can provide you with a competitive advantage. Dive in, get networked and take your organization and career to new heights!

Tim Bauman is director of food and nutrition services at Wood County Hospital in Bowling Green, OH. He also serves as webmaster for the ASHFSA website.


Wiki: A server program that allows users to collaborate in forming the content of a web site. With a wiki, any user can edit the site content, including other users' contributions, using a regular web browser.

A blog (short for weblog) is a personal online journal that is frequently updated and intended for general public consumption.

RSS is a method for distributing Web content via opt-in “feeds” that deliver new content to a computer or mobile device as soon as it is published.

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